23 August 2010

C.R. Vasco da Gama x Fluminense Football Club

The Vasco x Fluminense clássico came at exactly the right moment. Fluminense, bankrolled by the mega-health provider Unimed, are on top of the Brazilian league. Vasco, recently promoted and sitting mid-table, have been building momentum, slowly regaining their standing as a proper football club. The Maracanã, home to the biggest matches in Rio, was stuffed to capacity for the last time before the long, expensive, and painful process of reform for the 2014 World Cup. Sunday afternoon kickoff, cool temperatures, a nearly full moon, and 80.000+ people going to the same place, at the same time, for the same thing. No matter how many times I go to the Maracanã, there’s always something new to report.

On the metrô it’s relatively easy to get to the Maracanã, though there is no explanation at all as to why the old system of changing lines at Estácio sill functions on weekends and holidays. The only information available is shown in this photo. This creates confusion and leaves tourists wondering where to go. I saw several foreigners jump off at Central when they thought they were following people going to the game.  Over the loudspeaker at Cinelândia there was an announcement that Fluminense fans should use the São Cristóvão station, and Vasco fans the Maracanã stop.

The spectacle of state power is increasingly evident at public events in Rio de Janeiro.  The Military Police were keen to show off their ability to fly circles around the stadium in a helicopter with snipers hanging out the doors. Personally, that doesn’t make me feel any safer, just worried that the helicopter will crash into the stadium.

The state is also there to take away beer, but only if you are selling it. Drinking beer around the stadium is fine, but selling it is not. This creates a petty game of cat and mouse between people with sacks full of ice cold beer and the guarda municipal charged with clamping down on something that is so much a part of human culture that it simply cannot be repressed. It’s a joke. Beer sales have been banned at the Maracanã and the Engenhão for more than a year now, eliminating a secure source of money for some and taking away from the basic stadium ritual of red meat and alcohol that has fueled such events since Roman times. Fans should have the right to drink beer.

Emoção total. Woah. The torcidas organizadas of Vasco and Flu put on an incredible show. This is the brilliant part of Brazilian football and when a place like the Maracanã is your local ground, it’s really worth the R$30 (US$18) to go to a game. Even without the beer, it’s an astounding display.

Football and the stadium experience as vehicles for socialization and community identification. Besides Flamengüistas, there was not a single segment of Brazilian society that was not represented in the Maracanã yesterday afternoon. Young, rich, poor, old, middle-class, middle-aged, gay, straight, trans, tucanos, petistas, verdes, Zona Norte, Zona Sul, Zona Oeste, suburbio, baixada, morro, asfalto. Despite immense problems, Brazilian football stadiums continue to be key sites of social reproduction.  

The Law of the Fan and a full stadium. These two things are basically incompatible and yesterday’s game exposed the total failure of the 2005-2007 architectural reforms as well as a lack of organizational capacity and a lack of common sense amongst the common folk. Before I went to the game, I knew that the lower section of stands was going to revert to the condition of the geral, the old standing room only section of stands eliminated in 2005. I had seen this happen on other occasions when the crowd was over 80,000 but had been in the arquibancada. Being in the cadeira comum section wasn’t so nice.

I like to stand during games as it keeps me more involved in the action. I appreciate that not everyone likes to, or has the physical capacity to stand for two or more hours. When SUDERJ decided to do away with the geral they were ostensibly doing so with the idea that they would create a more comfortable environment for fans. Yesterday’s game proved the opposite. Everyone who had purchased a ticket for the lower section of seats was obliged to stand if they wanted to see the game.

By allowing people to stand in the aisle in front of the first row of seats, the police created a situation that was irresolvable. Either they could try to force everyone into a seat, or they could just let things go. The latter decision was much easier and so the people in the front row of seats had to stand on their chairs to see over those in front of them, the people behind them did the same thing and so on until everyone had to stand. Once the game began, hundreds of fans started screaming “Senta! Porra! Senta!” and throwing wads of toilet paper at those in front of them (the irony here being that the paper had been recently thrown in celebration). Of course, no one responded by sitting because they wouldn’t be able to see the game. After being hit in the head, and face, and back with various things I decided to move into the aisle where no one could reasonably yell at me for not sitting, as there were no seats. This repeated itself endlessly around the lower ring of stands and when I moved position for the second half, the old fellas sitting near me had to sit every ten minutes or so to rest. Fans should have the right to the seat they have paid for. 

The hundreds of millions of dollars of reforms undertaken by the state government completely failed to deliver comfort and the guarantee that if you buy a ticket for a seat that you will have the right to sit in that seat and watch a game. Instead of a space that allowed those who wanted to watch the game standing to do so, we have (or had) a space that obliged everyone to stand. The victims of this situation are those who want to sit and watch a game and those who prefer to or who are obliged to stand, but end up getting hit with insults and objects from their fellow fans. Fans should have the right to a well-organized stadium. 

The culture of the geral didn’t die because the space of the stadium was reformed. Those standing in the front were males between 15 and 35. It’s difficult to get them to move to a seat without swinging a stick. Will this kind of problem be resolved by throwing more money at the stadium? Probably not, but as it is, it's totally disfunctional (despite Oglobo's myopic lamentations). 

Regardless of the problems with seating, the Maracanã is not a great place to watch football. Every spectator is far from the action on the field. The sightlines are not great and the condition of the pitch is always in question. The Maracanã is a great place to immerse one’s self in the spectacle, to get caught up in the emotion and transformative power of sport, to participate in rituals that bind distinct communities within the larger matrix of Brazilian society. 

Oh yeah, the game. Absolutely brilliant. 

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